There’s never been a shortage of live theater in Montgomery County, but the 2018/2019 season will feature multiple productions with strong Jewish themes.
It is a concentration both rare and impressive, according to Rockville, Maryland, resident Lauren-Nicole Gabel. Gabel started Theatre@CBT, a community theater group that is run out of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, and she is also vice president of the performing arts group Montgomery Playhouse.
Theatre@CBT and Montgomery Playhouse are producing “The Last Five Years” (September 14-16 and 20-23 at the Randolph Road Theatre), a musical that follows an interfaith couple through their tumultuous five-year relationship. The audience bears witness as they fall both in and out of love. For Gabel, “The Last Five Years” is a way to discuss the topics of interfaith marriage and healthy relationships within the community.
In addition to the six shows at the Randolph Road Theatre, an additional performance will be hosted at Congregation B’nai Tzedek for the upper Hebrew School, with support from the Jewish Council Against Domestic Abuse (JCADA), which will be followed by a talk-back on interfaith relationships in the Jewish community and maintaining healthy relationships in general.
“Interfaith marriage has been hotly-debated in the American Jewish community for centuries,” said Gabel, “and knowing what makes a healthy and stable relationship is important regardless of a couple’s religious denomination.”
Most of the plays were scheduled for this season and region well in advance, but the timeliness of some of their subject matter is not lost on those involved.
For instance, “The Melting Pot” (Jewish Community Theater of Montgomery County and the Temple Beth Ami Players; August 11 and August 12 at Beth Ami)explores anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant hatred in the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century.
“It is disturbingly chilling to recognize how timely it still seems,” said director David Fialkoff. Jews in the play are accused of “controlling” things; immigrants are called “vermin” and “criminals.” He said the play raises the question: If this sort of hatred was around 100 years ago and is still present today, will it ever end?
The focus of “Kindertransport” (Sandy Spring Theatre Group; September 15-16 and 20-23 at the Arts Barn) on the orphaned children of the Holocaust is both an important piece of Holocaust history and one that the theater community finds relevant within the context of the current immigration debate. Same goes for “A Shayna Maidel” (Peace Mountain Theatre Company; October 11, 13-14, 18, and 20-21 at Har Shalom), which deals with the separation and reunification of families emigrating to the United States.
And while “The Diary of Anne Frank” (Rockville Little Theatre; September 28-October 7 at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre in the Rockville Civic Center Park) tells a story that is evergreen in its universality; it too feels unfortunately timely: Basic knowledge of the Holocaust in the general population is reportedly decreasing, and people are grappling with an increasingly brazen anti-Semitic presence in American political discourse.
“As long as human beings feel the need to marginalize, oppress, and murder others who are different, this story will be relevant,” said Dean Fiala, president of Rockville Little Theatre. “This remarkable work is a reminder that what happened to Anne and her family is not a myth, not a legend, not an allegory — but a factual record — a personal record of survival, hope, betrayal, and death. It is one story out of the millions that could be told of what happens when our shared humanity is cast aside.”